Sweetheart of a Story
In Virginia, he met Velma Cashatt, a young girl who had gone to Washington, D.C. to work for the government during the war. James and Velma married before he shipped out with the 82nd Engineer Combat Battalion. He landed at Omaha Beach two weeks after D-Day. Morris served as the battalion’s executive officer and later as it's commanding officer. The turning point of the war for Europe, the Battle of the Bulge during the Ardennes Offensive was only part of the history experienced by the unit as it fought through France and Germany in 1944 and 1945.
All during this time, photographs of Velma were carried underneath custom clear plastic grip panels on the young officer's Remington Rand M1911A1. The grips were made for Morris by his men, from the fractured windshield of a downed German bomber. They were a gift of admiration and esteem from a group of men for an honored comrade in arms.
James L. Morris returned from war, and he kept the sidearm that served him so well throughout that part of his life. Velma's photos remained underneath the clear plastic grips of the pistol. He began a new life with his bride and the war relic was placed away as an old memento of a time he hoped would never reoccur. They had a long and fruitful life, and a son who grew up to join the US Navy. In 2005, Velma died. In September 2007, James joined her again. The pistol he carried was bequeathed to his son Jim.
In October, Morris' home was burglarized. Three firearms, including the precious M1911A1 were stolen. "Nothing in this world that I owned had more sentimental value to me," Jim Morris said. "That gun meant the world to me. It means the world to me." Even though he did not have the serial number, he still listed the lost firearm as stolen.
December 2007. Parker County deputies execute a search warrant at a house near Azle, Texas in search of a suspect. The perp was long gone, but the deputies discovered an old gun under a mattress. The homeowner told them he thought it was stolen. The serial number was run through the data base, but it got no hits. The old pistol was placed into the property room. It languished there, unclaimed.
As his office was being renovated in August, Parker County Sheriff Larry Fowler saw the old gun laying in the the property room again. A history buff, he decided to conduct a search for the owner again, this time using the photos as a clue. A newspaper article was circulated through the press. "I’ll bet you it was someone connected with the Army Air Forces. They had to have the materials to make this, and I doubt somebody in the infantry would," speculated Sheriff Fowler. The truth is "sweetheart" grips were not uncommon during WWII, and they were most common in infantry units, as Sheriff Fowler learned from multiple telephone calls.
Then, finally, the lawman received the call he had waited for. A man from Stephenville called with a story about a young officer from Texas who fell in love with a girl from Nebraska. A man so loved by his men that they crafted him sweetheart grips to carry her picture under for safekeeping. A couple who built a life for themselves in the trials of war. A photograph recognized, a cherished heirloom recovered. "I never thought I would see it again," Jim Morris said. "My son will get it when I pass away."
Record and photograph your guns and heirlooms. Today may be your last opportunity.